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Resources and recommendations for teaching multicultural history in Ontario

Part of our Multicultural Community Capacity project has been learning the landscape of multicultural history for Ontario schools. We know there are fantastic curriculum resources out there, and we don’t want to be redundant to what others have already worked tirelessly on. Here we’d like to share a few things we’ve found, and some recommended resources from teachers using them in their classes.

One thing we’ve learned is that teachers love video. (Which is great, because we have hundreds of video records.) Teachers have been sharing their favourite videos to play in the classroom, everything from short minute-long excerpts to full documentaries. We haven’t focused yet on the Jewish experience in Ontario, but we want to share this 17-minute video about Canada’s refusal to allow the Jewish refugees of the MS St. Louis to disembark here in 1939:

In the 11th grade History of Africa and Peoples of African Descent course, it’s important to talk about the many paths to Canada for black people, and the many cultural and economic contexts that inspire people to leave their countries of origin to come here. One teacher uses the documentary Life And Debt to illustrate the politics and life in Jamaica, and as a way to introduce international relations and the influence of foreign powers in countries of the global south:

Teachers also love to teach local stories that illustrate politics and cultures from decades ago. We’re learning from their suggestions and incorporating existing video content from our VITA partners into our virtual exhibits, including image slideshows and oral histories.

One thing new to us is different types of pedagogy, or theories about how people learn. Something we heard a lot is that history teachers don’t just teach history, they teach students how to think about history. One way to do so is to use Historical Thinking, a six-concept framework developed here in Canada.

 To think historically, students need to be able to:

  1. Establish historical significance
  2. Use primary source evidence
  3. Identify continuity and change
  4. Analyze cause and consequence
  5. Take historical perspectives, and
  6. Understand the ethical dimension of historical interpretations.

Canada’s History has a great lesson plan that applies Historical Thinking concepts to 20th century Canada, including Japanese internment.

Another approach we love from the museum world is Teaching With Objects, which sounds physical, but includes digital collections:

Working with digital collections gives students the freedom to pick their own object to analyze. This allows them to take responsibility for an object that raises questions in their own minds. Students should research where the object is from and how it came to be preserved. Asking students to compare and contrast their object with an object of a similar function used today can help create additional connections between the present and the past.

There’s lots here to learn from if you’re working on your own virtual exhibit or classroom exercise around digital objects. It can be hard to think about archival and collections concepts like provenance and diplomatics in the digital realm, but in reality it just adds a further layer of inquiry – not just where the original came from and how it got preserved, but why and how it got digitized and what information was kept and lost in that process.

A “20 Questions” handout from George Washington’s Mount Vernon historical site, asking students to reflect on historical objects.

Teachers also mentioned a need for readily-available resources to teach about marginalized groups and underrepresented identities (which is what this project is all about!). They especially want materials to inspire students to see themselves pursuing the hard sciences – women and people of colour in STEM. We’ll be releasing some activities and modules around that, and encourage you to do the same.

The Ontario social sciences and history curriculum for grades 1 through 8 provides some guidance on how heritage organizations can support students. For example, it suggests that students should be able to navigate the websites and digital collections of archives, museums, and heritage sites:

From page 56 of the Ontario social studies, history, and geography curriculum.

By the end of the sixth grade, students should have enough grasp of primary-source research to understand and evaluate different perspectives on the same issue:

From page 128.
From page 147.

Some great lesson plans already exist – take special note of the Archives of Ontario curriculum resources, the curriculum resources and virtual exhibit about the Chatham Coloured All-Stars baseball team, Canada’s History leson plans around women’s work with the Canadian Patriotic Fund, the 365 Black Canadian Curriculum, Women Change Makers, and the Black Canadian Women resources from the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, and Natasha Henry’s other fantastic work around Slavery and its Gradual Abolition and primary sources around Black Enslavement in Canada. We continue to learn from these fantastic projects.


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